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ASU dominates running game on both sides of the ball in win over Buffs

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) lunges for a touchdown as Colorado defensive back Evan Worthington (6) defends during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State won 41-30. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The college football world has had nine games to figure out the 2017 Arizona State Sun Devils.

I’m not sure anyone has been able to crack the code just yet.

After a flat performance in an important game that led to a 31-point loss to USC a week ago, Todd Graham’s Sun Devils showed resilience Saturday.

ASU trailed by as many as 10 points on three different occasions, but used a big second half to knock off Colorado, 41-30 in front of 44,553 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

The key to this latest win was dominance in the running game — on both sides of the ball.

ASU (5-4, 4-2) ran for 384 yards, paced by Demario Richard’s career-high 189-yard peformance. It was the senior’s first time topping the century mark in 16 games, dating back to the Devils’ win over Texas Tech in September of 2016.

If it seemed like Richard got better as the game went on, that’s because it’s exactly what happened; he gained 139 yards in the fourth quarter as the Sun Devils wore the Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5) down.

“That’s 100 percent true,” Richard said about him gaining steam late in the game. “My dad always told me to keep my head up, praise God and just keep working. When I have a guy like (Manny Wilkins) on the side of me keep telling me to be patient and run the route, that’s what I’m going to do.

“I’m a young guy, fresh legs, and I just have to keep working. In the fourth quarter I already know what time it is when the game’s close, my team needs to depend on me in the fourth quarter and that’s why I work my tail off at practice to just keep being great.”

Richard moved into sixth place on Arizona State’s all-time rushing list, and helped ASU compile its biggest rushing yardage game in conference play since rolling up 405 against Oregon in 1997.

But it wasn’t just Richard. Everyone got involved in piling up yardage. Quarterback Manny Wilkins ran for 95 yards and a score. True freshman Eno Benjamin got late carries and made the most of them, racking up 52 yards on five carries, including an electrifying 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that gave ASU its first lead of the game with 5:33 to go.

“I told him he has been in my tool box,” Richard joked about Benjamin’s physical run. “He doesn’t have a choice but to watch two, well I think, of the greatest that have ever come through here. He has big shoes to fill once we leave.

“Like I said he has been in my tool box, he watches me practice every day. I watch him, I correct him, just like I correct myself. He’s his biggest critic, I’m his biggest critic. We put in work in that running back room. Coach Simon isn’t going to let us be mediocre. He tells us that we have to work and come to practice like pros.”

Kalen Ballage, who was slowed last week while fighting a virus, was back and gained 43 yards on nine carries.

In 54 carries, ASU had only one that lost yardage all night.

On the defensive side, the Sun Devils stepped up to the challenge of containing Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay, who came into the week with 1,254 yards rushing — the second-most in the Pac-12 behind Stanford’s Bryce Love.

Lindsay did get 80 yards (his second-lowest total of the season), but it took him 23 carries to do so. His longest run was 7 yards.

“(Lindsay) is really special,” Graham said, after notching the 600th win in ASU football history. “It’s hard because they spread you out from sideline-to-sideline and they’ve got really good receivers, but I thought we made some great adjustments at halftime.

“If you notice, their quarterback kept getting (rushing) yardage. We just said ‘you know what, you can keep running the quarterback, because we’re going to stop No. 23.'”

To Graham’s point, Lindsay had only 15 yards on the ground in the second half as ASU outscored Colorado 27-13 in the final 30 minutes.

With three games left, Arizona State finds itself just one win away from bowl eligibility. Their next two games are on the road and both are winnable. Next Saturday, they’ll visit a banged-up UCLA team at the Rose Bowl and the following week, an Oregon State team that’s already fired its head coach awaits.

If the Sun Devils can figure out a way to bottle the intensity they showed in the second half on both sides of the ball in the running game Saturday, they’ve got a shot to run the table and finish with eight wins.

And we all remember how silly that sounded in August.

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